Winter: Imagining a world without high school sports

Star Columnist

Ever wonder what it would be like without high school athletics?

I know some people wouldn’t care, preferring all the money spent on sports programs be used instead for academics and building repairs and higher salaries for teachers. Well, not so certain that they’d want the latter.

Those who teach and coach aren’t always overly compensated. In fact, I went to a high school that didn’t pay its coaches; it was just part of extracurricular assignments that teachers had to accept. Heck, when I played volleyball, I’m not certain our coach did much more than drive us to games. I remember him, though, as a good teacher and a good guy.

But I’m talking about the mid-1960s.

Nowadays it’s completely different, even here in Miles City. More people go to the games, including parents who are quite involved with their children who are playing. Some get too involved, resulting in coaches quitting or getting terminated by the Miles City Unified Board of Trustees.

For instance, when Aaron Essex resigned as the girls basketball coach at Custer County District High School and head coach of junior high track last May, he wrote a letter addressed: “To whom it may concern” expressing displeasure with some parents, some athletes and the board.

Essex said he was “personally threatened with bodily harm outside the locker room after a game, telling me they will go to the board if their daughter does not get more playing time.”

Essex maintained that he coaches at the high school level “to win, not to make sure playing time is fair and equal.” He told me in a meeting last summer: “If they (some parents) don’t stay out of coaches’ business, it’s not going to be easy to hire coaches.”

Among the coaches needed when new athletic director Dominick Vergara was hired last year were three volleyball, three wrestling and three in girls basketball. Vergara recommended that the fall sports coaches be maintained in golf, football and cross-country, but not volleyball.

The board approved.

So now the search is on — for the second straight year — for the volleyball program. The 2017 coaches, I was told, can reapply. Volleyball will probably have a different coach three years in a row, not exactly how you build a program.

Meanwhile, Essex continues to teach at Washington Middle School and serves as an assistant coach with CCDHS football and said some parents “need to realize they have to back off.”

So, do you ever wonder what it would be like without high school athletics? Want to be a coach?



— A caller asked about the times of freshman and junior varsity games. Because freshman games sometimes are canceled due to lack of players, the suggestion is to go online to the site to check on times and locations. You can also register as a friend and changes will automatically be sent to you.

— I’m not certain if I ever covered or attended a wrestling tournament with 30 teams competing. That’s the size of the 60th annual Cowboy Invitational after two teams that were going to travel together (Bismarck and Mandan, N.D.) withdrew. The tourney started this morning on five mats and continues through late Saturday afternoon at CCDHS. Please don’t call me early Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon when the Vikings are playing the Saints.

— Watch for PBR world champion Jess Lockwood to bounce back in Chicago this weekend after a tough opening weekend in New York. The Volborg bull rider earned $4,900 that I’m not sure is enough to cover four or five days in NYC.

(Contact Abe Winter at or 406-234-0450.)